Three arrested after shots fired on Miramichi Bay

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Saturday, September 23, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. - For the second day, shots have rung out on Miramichi Bay, site of the simmering lobster fishery dispute. RCMP arrested three non-natives and seized three loaded weapons early Saturday morning.

Police say the men they arrested were intoxicated at the time. RCMP also seized marijuana and alcohol.

The suspects are from Neguac, which is a few kilometres from Burnt Church, N.B. One of them is a commercial fisherman. But police stressed the incident was not encouraged by any group or organization.


Insp. Kevin Vickers
Bullet hole in fishing boat

"We believe these are the actions of individuals acting on their own," Insp. Kevin Vickers said at a news conference in Neguac Saturday morning.

Witnesses reported being woken by three or four bangs that sounded like shotguns. The shots come one day after a bullet was fired into a non-native fishing boat on Miramichi Bay.

On Friday, reporters were shown a bullet hole and a shattered toilet inside the damaged boat. There were four people on the vessel, but no one was injured.

RCMP are investigating accusations that the shot came from a craft carrying Mi'kmaq fishermen, although no has been arrested.

Federal officials removing traps

The shot occurred at exactly the same time as a federal deadline expired ordering Burnt Church natives to remove their lobster traps from Miramichi Bay.

But reserve members ignored the deadline and gathered along the shore, praying for peace and blessing the fishing equipment in the water.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has declared the native lobster fishery closed and over the past two days have seized 926 traps from the bay.

Commercial fishers ready to move in

The shooting incidents are escalating tensions in the fishing dispute. Non-native fishermen, tired of waiting for Ottawa to act, were threatening to move in Saturday and destroy all lobster traps set by the Burnt Church reserve.

Burnt Church Chief Wilbur Dedam and the former head of the Assembly of First Nations, Ovide Mercredi, both appealed for calm.


They said native people don't want treaty rights at the cost of lives, and urged the prime minister to intervene personally.
Ovide Mercredi
A protester in Dhaliwal's Vancouver office
Herb Dhaliwal

Federal fisheries minister under fire

In the meantime, criticism of federal Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal is growing. About 20 native demonstrators occupied his constituency office in Vancouver Friday. Fifteen have decided to continue the protest; they're demanding Dhaliwal's resignation.

During Question Period in the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Joe Clark said Dhaliwal should be in the Miramichi area negotiating an end to the conflict.

"Why won't he go to Burnt Church immediately and intervene at the highest level?" asked Clark.

"Every effort has been made to find a resolution," Dhaliwal replied in the House. "But we cannot be dialoguing while there's illegal fishing going on."

Prime Minister Jean Chr*tien has backed his minister, saying, "I expect the people in Burnt Church to respect the law."

The dispute began last September when the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the native right to fish based on centuries-old treaties.

The Burnt Church band has refused to remove its traps, arguing it has the legal right to fish. It also accused Ottawa of exaggerating the number of cages in the water.

But the federal government said the figure is irrelevant, and that the fishery must be closed to preserve the lobster stock next season.

Non-native fishermen in the area have argued that their livelihood is at stake if the band is allowed to put as many traps as it wants in the water all year round.